Corrib Ramblers in Barcelona 2006
By Mary Kyne
The Corrib Ramblers have just returned from a successful and enjoyable ten-day hiking trip to the Costa Brava in Spain. This delightful coastline on the Province of Girona has some of the most beautiful sites nature has to offer in every respect, but where its land and sea come together it is outstanding. Our 5 hikes, which varied in length from, 11km-15km took us through areas of exceptional beauty. Our spacious apartments in Platja d’Aro, south of Girona airport, were very central to the town and long sandy beach, bordered by towering apartment blocks. The area was very peaceful- the wealthy of Barcelona and Girona have homes in the surrounding hills including Michael Schumacher.
Walk Along The Coast Line.
On our first hike we explored the coastline between Platja d ‘Aro and Palamos. It took us a long a path overlooking the azure blue ocean, over rugged cliffs, around secluded coves, along an idyllic succession of peaceful sandy beaches (one a nudist), under thick pine trees bent by the strong winds typical of the region and in under tunnels carved out of the rock. The tunnels allow access along the difficult paths of the coast as the private owners are not permitted to cordon off the shore.
This is the Catalan area which was always opposed the dictator Franco. It is one of the most beautiful regions of Spain thanks to the richness and variety of its landscape.
In 1997 the people were allowed to speak their own dialect. The inhabitants are a very proud people and very nationalistic. We finished our first day having dinner in a restaurant offering mediocre, expensive food and poor service. This did not dampen our spirits as we had dessert in an ice cream palour and finally finished having a sing song in an Austrian owned bar.
Irish and Germans Travel Together.
We were the first Irish group to have travelled with Anto Gotten’s travel company in Germany. We joined 43 Germans who welcomed us into their group even though there was a language barrier. When you share the experience of the majestic mountains and the ocean with others there is no barrier between people. Our hike took us through sub tropical Mediterranean forest, stony bays and fantastic beach coves with aquamarine waters lapping the shoreline. We passed through farmlands, small fishing villages like Tamariu and Cuba, situated at the bottom of steep cliffs. With every twist and turn our climbing efforts were rewarded with wonderful views of the surrounding area.
We trekked through the Calella De Palafrugell region-centre of a once thriving cork industry but now in decline. We reached the church of Saint Sebastian, situated high up on the mountain near the 18th century hermitage dedicated to the same saint. The village Lefrancs is similar to other villages along the coast-it began as a refuge for fishermen who drew their boats up along the sandy beaches safe from raiding pirates. When the period of the raiding incursions were over, the villages became permanent homes for the fishermen who alternated their fishing activities with farming the land.
The breathtaking scenery has made Costa Brava famous. “Brava”- brave as the fishermen who negotiated the rocky coastline and who eked out their living there were indeed brave men. “Brava” also means rugged. We climbed the cliffs by using steps and narrow paths that just hung over the ocean. You certainly needed a good steady head for heights, as there were sheer drops into the sea. We swam during the hike and ate our lunches while sunning on the rocks.
We finished our day by visiting the Botanical Gardens of Caixa de Girona, founded in 1927 by a Russian gentleman in exile and an English aristocrat and decorator, Dorothy Webster. The exquisitely maintained gardens were left to the Bank, as they had no family. In return the bank guaranteed Dorothy and her husband enough money to live the life they were accustomed to as long as they lived.
De Cap de CreusNational Park
On our third hike we proved to ourselves that we can climb mountains, negotiate rough terrain, enjoy a few beers and sing as good as anyone. We walked through the De Cap de Creus national park. The path took us through the woods, over rocks, across rivers and under trees that overlooked a great canyon. We walked around the top of the canyon looking into the deep tree lined ravine, 1840m below – awesome scenery bathed in the incredible blue haze of the mountains.
On the way we passed through mountain villages, their wooden houses adorned with bright coloured geraniums boxes, lined the narrow cobble streets. The mountain passes took us through farmlands – there are no restrictions on walkers along these magnificent scented paths.
After the trek we feasted in an old monastery overlooking the Canyon. We had a traditional Catalonian dinner – pasta and meat, followed by potatoes, vegetables and roast pork. Dessert was ice cream. We washed it down with plenty of sangrine, vino followed with coffee laced with cognac. Is it any wonder that we sang all the way home in the bus!! Our German friends now know the “Fields of Athenry”!!
Visit to Girona
On our free day Christina O Malley and I took a bus to Girona. It lies amidst a splendid landscape close to the Pyreenes. Girona is a peaceful city, but boasts to be one of the best conserved medieval cities of Spain containing traces of Moorish, Jewish, Romanesque, Gothic and Modernist elements. The fine structure of the cathedral of Santa Maria towers above the rest of the city. You access the cathedral by climbing 90 steps. The interior is dark but is illuminated with the sunlight shining through the many stain glass windows. A series of chapels line the sides of the cathedral. Here too you can view the enormous wealth of gold, silver and precious stone treasures as well as tapestries and works of art of the church. The cathedral cloister, with 56 pairs of decorated columns, is very impressive, depicting scenes from everyday life, trades, buildings, costumes etc.
We strolled through the many cobbled streets all so well preserved while a modern city thrives beside this historic out door museum. Other members of the group went to open-air markets and bought leather bags, belts, shoes and jewellery – all great value so I am informed!
Seaside resort L’Estartit
Saturday we travelled north to L’Estartit a seaside town. From here we took a glass bottom boat out to Medes islands out from the rugged coast. We admired the bird colonies and the jagged rocks sticking up from the seabed. When we entered the glass bottom we saw shoals of fish and reefs. It was raining heavily so our walk over rocks was abandoned in the interest of safety.
Medieval Cities of Begur and Pals
Instead we took a path between two medieval cities Begur and Pals. Both cities have ancient walls and other vestiges of the past. In the square at Begur with its many open-air cafes they were opening and eating oysters. The torrential rain continued the following day causing flooding in Platja d’Aro. The town was cut off for some time as the shopkeepers had to sandbag their premises. It was the final day of the Ryder Cup so Peter and Nancy Mc Aleer, Maurice and Bernie Begley and I watched the Europeans trounce the American team in a Spanish café-a remarkable achievement for the European golfers.
Final Hike –Port dela Selva
For our final hike we went 14km from Port de la Selva on the French border to the most easterly point of Spain at Cap de Creus. We walked over a mountain path, passed out crops of unusual shaped rocks, saw ruined stone farmsteads and old terraces once used by the local farmers but now abandoned.
We came across an abundance of herbs, wild flowers and olive groves on the lower sandy slopes. We crossed rivers, waded through flooded paths, even taking off our shoes and socks at one stage to cross a flooded path. We viewed a spectacular waterfall where we ate our midday lunch and swam in the cool waters of a stony beach.
This landscape was inspiration for Dali a famous 20th century Spanish painter. We visited a ruined Benedictine monastery. We had dinner at the end of our trek in a restaurant situated beside a lighthouse on the peninsula.
A Day Trip to Barcelona
Finally we ended our tour with a day spent in Barcelona. We went to the Gothic quarter where amongst the narrow streets we visited the ancient cathedral. We also stood in awe viewing the extraordinary architecture of Gaudi’s unfinished Sagrada Familia Cathedral. We strolled along the leafy Ramblas with its market stalls and buskers giving the area a carnival atmosphere. We didn’t have sufficient time to view all the wonderful sights of this magnificent city – perhaps we will return another day.
Finally I would like to express a sincere thank you to our dear friend Roland Wirsching who initiated this tour last March. Unfortunately Roland was not able to see his dream come true of bringing Irish and German walkers together. We wish Roland a speedy recovery and hopefully he will be with us on our next great adventure.